Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Onward Project

A patch was installed last week, removing a tiresome problem in the warehouse, unblocking the largest obstacle in the project’s path and paving the way for a further roll out to two other sites, giving everyone a fine sense of achievement before the year’s end. At least that’s the plan, an optimistic way forward for all concerned, giving members a sense of triumph after the success of the patch, like giving hope to battered troops after the long battles with program bugs. The decision also loads me with more work as the game has commenced again, racing one’s hearts in anticipation of the travel and work ahead, giving ideas that one can delve into other entertaining options, providing hope to travel plans that one can share.  The decision focuses one’s mind again, recently drifting from subject to subject, searching for some inspiration, bored or tired of the lingering attention that is diverted by other projects added-on without sense or reason.

Texas and Illinois are the new states to install following South Carolina and Nevada, with new challenges coming from contractors, hungry to take work from the company so new invoices can be sent, sucking talent out from internal folks like a deadly embrace that may prove fatal in the long run. Office politics rears its ugly head again, one is not up to the challenge where one needs to make his voice heard, sadly one is just bored, forever seeking illicit pleasure from episodes of distraction and procrastination, looking for some solace in the Internet or exotic subjects like samurai in the Edo period, sinking into mediocrity and irrelevance.  The key problem is focus, as one’s attention is perpetually distracted or looking at trivialities like television shows and surfing the Internet. So one wonders where the time has gone as the weekend or the weekdays slips away, lost forever as one’s journey is diverted to another area. It’s a problem faced by everyone.

I missed a local writing course that started last September. I should have paid more attention to the local organization’s website instead of feeling wonderful after the attending the July workshop in Spartanburg. This year, the significant training I had so far was the creative writing course in Greer, the 3 day workshop in Spartanburg and watching the 24 lectures on the DVD on crafting a sentence. I also listened to a number of DVD audio books about writing. But I could have attended another reasonable writing course nearby if I had paid attention. I still have to complete the DVD course and plan to participate in the coming ‘Nanowrimo’ annual writing project in November. Before the year’s end, I hope I can contribute some stories to minor online magazines as well as attend the local library’s sharing sessions each month. The immediate goal is to complete a first draft and get into the thick of things. I tried to limit the DVDs and books and magazines that I borrow to free up some time for this work.

I just finished reading ‘Moneyball’ - a 2003 book by Michael Lewis. He is getting into his stride after writing some financially themed books like ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Liar’s Poker.’ To me, ‘Moneyball’ is probably his best work by exposing the use of economic and statistical analysis in baseball. In most of his books, he starts out by trying to find what makes certain people special – people who have a special gift that results in great wealth or a breakthrough or innovation in a certain field – the bond trader in Solomon brothers, the contrarian investor shorting subprime mortgages, the Silicon Valley wizard working on the next new thing and the baseball manager hiring Harvard geeks to apply mathematics in baseball. He is an intriguing writer who zeroes on the essential ingredient of the story or person, bringing forth a broader understanding of economics and finance. Strangely, he has an Arts History degree from Princeton and an Economics degree from the London School of Economics (same school as George Soros). Possibly this explains his discerning and unique viewpoint.   

My views on the current financial situation is finally getting some clarity, time spent reading all sorts of books from diverse writers, watching MSNBC, discussing the situation with numerous people, monitoring the results of my investment, have paid off. Some friends came over last Saturday and we started to discuss housing prices. This led to some heated debate but something clicked in my mind. Everything started to make sense. There are too many talking heads and pundits giving their own view of things. Suddenly the environment became clear. I realized that housing prices will continue to go down (despite the low interest rates) because of the high unemployment and anemic growth of the US economy. The country is undergoing massive structural changes that can only sort out in decades unless radical reforms are made in the education system and direction of the economy. It will take another 10-20 years before housing prices go up. The looming precedent is Japan who experienced 2 decades of weak growth. It is new world as Obama declared in this inaugural address.

The new economy has not gained traction or is not wide enough to benefit the majority. Disaffected folks either join the conservative Tea Party (bankrolled by oil billionaires) or join the liberal ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement (true grassroots or influenced by the administration). Only a country like America can find a way but the challenges are huge and new. Gordon Brown’s recent book talks about the current crises as the first challenge of globalization. It’s an interesting book but it’s now clear that a new world is emerging. The new economy of mobile devices, self-publishing, social media, environment friendly – alternate energy world, local connectivity and Internet entrepreneurship is a realm open to only a few. This domain is accessible to visionaries who have gained immense wealth and thereby increased the gap between the rich and poor. The new economy is experienced by tech savvy consumers (who are the majority) who think they have entered a new sphere but only a new consumer experience funded by declining real income. The consumer needs to cross over as a new economy producer.

For example, Henry Ford ushered in the industrial age by pricing his car at a level that his employees can afford. His ‘employees’ are an example of the ordinary factory worker or blue collar employee. Today’s high tech consumers enjoy the fruits of technology but do not have the everyday skills needed to support sophisticated technology. The intellectual capacity that is needed to synthesize new ideas and trends (pattern recognition) is missing. In other words, the transition from the blue collar worker to the knowledge worker has not been achieved in a wider scale unlike in emerging countries like India. Hence, structural changes are needed to make the shift to the new economy by improving the education system. The old solution of immigration may no longer be possible. Without this transition, the economy will remain moribund with high unemployment. The housing market (or foreign wars) will no longer be the growth engine but some new industry that needs to engage the majority the same way previous blue collar work in the factory or workplace was achieved.  

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